Ontario home-care organizations ask province for help

By Liam Casey

Hundreds of million of dollars are desperately needed to stabilize the home-care workforce in Ontario, the association representing organizations providing that care said as it urged the province to speed up delivery of promised funds.

The province pledged in last year’s budget to spend $1-billion for better home care over three years. 

While some of that funding has flowed to organizations, Home Care Ontario has asked the province to move faster to send an outstanding $880 million to the sector.

“We aren’t doing enough to shore up the health-care system outside the hospitals,” said Sue VanderBent, CEO of Home Care Ontario, whose members employ about 28,000 health-care workers.

“That’s where home care works and primary care works to keep people out of hospital.”

Premier Doug Ford’s government is in the midst of reforming health-care across the province. 

Both the premier and VanderBent were disappointed at the new health-care deal offered by the federal government that did not provide new money for home care. Ford has said he is continuing to negotiate with Ottawa on more money for home care.

While VanderBent applauds the proposed health-care changes by the province, she wants home care to be stabilized before major reforms begin.

“What we’re saying is let’s stabilize the foundation, which is home care, before we try to build the house,” she said. 

About 900,000 Ontarians receive home care annually, with about 730,000 in the publicly funded system, according to Home Care Ontario.

Home care has lost several thousands of nurses and personal support workers during the pandemic, VanderBent said. Many of those workers have left for higher-paying jobs at hospitals and long-term care homes. 

In its pre-budget report to the province, Home Care Ontario said the vacancy rates for nurses in home care stands at 17 per cent and personal support workers sits at 12 per cent.

An entry-level nurse in home care earns $11 less than the same role in a hospital, the report said.

A personal support worker in home care makes, on average, $4.61 less per hour than one working in a hospital, the report said.

The province did not answer questions about the request to fast-track the allocated home-care funding.

A minister of health spokeswoman said the $1-billion funding “will benefit nearly 700,000 families who rely on home care annually, to help more people connect to care closer to home.”

Other health-care workers in home care have left for retail and the food-service industry. 

A home care personal support worker makes, on average, $20.30 per hour. An Amazon warehouse worker earns $20.37 per hour and a cashier at Cosco earns $19.87 per hour, the report from Home Care Ontario said.

The low wages are a deterrent to both recruitment and retention of front-line staff, VanderBent said.

If the remaining money is fast-tracked, $578 million would go toward a rate increase for health-care workers, $272 million would go to increased capacity to support pressures in acute care and long-term care while $30 million would go to care model innovations, the report said.

“Our research indicates that a 10 per cent increase in PSW wages would add 1,265 PSWs to the home care workforce, while a matching increase for nurses and therapists would have a similarly significant positive impact on recruitment and retention efforts going forward,” the report said.

Home Care Ontario estimates that would deliver 2.72 million more home-care hours across the province.